Caleb readied the itinerary, printed out MapQuest directions, and updated Tom Tom in preparation for this trip. The morning of leaving I am going through our packing list but we are not yet awake enough because after dropping some books off at the library we will have to return home for a few items. Soon we are on I-95 heading north but MapQuest knows a better way and I agree. This detour has us surrounded by John Deere tractors and combine harvesters, new and old houses, and a variety of wildlife that call these woods home.
At our first stop, Congaree National Park, we are greeted by a squirrel at the entrance. The Mosquito Meter measures between All Clear and Mild and we are excited as we set up in Campsite Seven and spray the tent with some anti-bug for our return that evening. We will encounter a variety of multiple-legged critters along the many paths while we meander through the Bald Cypress and Loblolly pines of this floodplain in the largest tract of old growth forest left in the United States.
This forest gets flooded about ten times a year giving it the appearance of a swamp but actual swamps retain a certain amount of water throughout the seasons. This forest teaches us so much about the life cycle; the thick Bald Cypress, with surrounding knees that may act as anchors or snorkels, stained up to four feet with moss as evidence of the last flood and fallen trees that continue to grow and give food and shelter to insects and birds. Where the canopies are thick the vegetation is not and other areas are dense with life and color.
Some of the insects we saw were arthropods such as the silkworm species Bombyx mori, the black ground beetle, black and blue butterflies, wasps, and the velvet ant family Mutillidae nicknamed – Cow Killer. Other arthropods were the arachnid golden-silk orb-weaver and the spined micrathena and the millipede species Narceus americanus with over 160 legs. The second most diverse phylum, Mollusca, was somewhat scarce visually but we did manage to see some of the Gastropoda class and take a snail photo. The popular Chordata in today’s woods would be the reptiles that go by the common names of lizards and turtles and the only mammal – the squirrel.
The next morning we were up before the sun. We took everything but the tent with us to reserve our camping spot for the night’s return. Our first stop was the Andrew Johnson homestead grounds that are open for tours but we were the only ones there. We found the visitor center near Johnson’s old tailor shop and smaller home. There, volunteer Daniel was able to fascinate us with the history of the 17th president’s life and some of the people involved with his career and his impeachment.
After a trip to the Andrew Johnson Cemetery we were backtracking a bit and interested in what was drying in these big, brown sheds on the roadside. We found the one we had passed earlier and as we went to pullover, we noticed a man on a lawnmower. His name is Tracy and he kindly invited us to use the driveway and get out for a tour. We have now seen our first tobacco leaves. They were hanging three-stories high, about four-feet long, and eight-inches at the widest part. Most were brown now but some still had green and yellow on them.
Tracy went on to tell us some of the family history in the business and, that now that they are no longer supported by the government, how profits have fallen by 75%. I don’t know what the fresh plant smells like but, after hanging for a few weeks, walking amongst these dry leaves, it can feel as if you have just smoked a pack of cigarettes yourself. I was interested in the story and anxious to take more pictures, but Tracy the tobacco farmer is also a smoker; a good reason to get us back on the road.
The next stop on our list was the Carl Sandburg Home. It was interesting to see the seniors, over 70 years old, amazed at the orange Smart Car parked in the lot; to be alive when their parents might have had the opportunity to own the Ford Model T and now, in an age where most everyone owns a car, see where America has let automobile technology advance. We would find ourselves at the info center and attempt to drive to the home that is only accessible via paths on foot from the center and carts taking people up a small lane.
We walked the relaxing loop around the lake before heading along the tree-lined path to the house with a flower-garden out front. Further up the hill, there is another garden with flowers, herbs, and veggies guarded by a scarecrow that also watches over the Connemara Farm goats. In the visitor center there is milk, cheese, and fudge from goat-milk available for sale. There were a few bugs pollinating the colorful blooms. If I owned property with a diverse landscape, I would find great inspiration to write too.
Driving down another winding road I glimpse, from my peripheral vision, a furry critter alive on the roadside. We drive about a mile down until there is a point to turn around. After letting other vehicles pass, we get turned around in hopes of the animal allowing us one picture. I pull up on the opposite side of the road and get one picture before a dually truck (four wheels on the rear axle) drives by and the animal dives into the bushes. Caleb was able to identify the animal, seen on another roadside by us, as a beaver.
Soon after the beaver siting we arrive at Cowpens National Battlefield. In the visitor center we were able to see a model of the USS Cowpens (CG-63) ship that is stationed in Japan and that Caleb’s brother, Kris, was stationed on for two years. Outside offers some wild turkeys, monuments, and Robert Scruggs’ House with some herbs growing nearby. To finish the day, we would make a trip to Kings Mountain NMP and be just in time for the shooting of the musket and rifle.
We will arrive back to Congaree after dark and passing by the visitor center are offered flashlights with red plastic over them making it better to see owls that we might hear while on the trail. This tour is only offered when there is enough staff available and enough reservations; we happened to get lucky with some cancellations. The late night meal in the tent of hard-boiled eggs and bell peppers with ranch dressing will help put us to sleep until the park ranger comes around to check on things and wakes Sparky.
In the morning we would drive through Wateree, Elloree, and Santee passing many cotton fields and one beautiful wooded path. We stopped at a gas station to get some cold medicine for Caleb and he napped along with the dogs for the ride home on the highway passing the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum where we will have to make plans to visit on another trip. I would have enjoyed another day camping, but this gave Caleb some time to rest before the boating adventure planned for tomorrow.